In her book, Happier at Home, Gretchen Rubin talks of her journey to increase happiness that already exists at home, and make it a place filled with greater simplicity, comfort and love. And what does she want from her home? A place that calms her, and energises her, and above all, she wants to be happier at home.
Our homes are an extension of who we are. What we do within the confined walls of our personal space moulds our mood, affects our productivity, and influences our outlook on life. Scientific studies have shown that we can have an impact on our happiness by tailoring the little habits and routines that make up our daily lives — indeed, happiness begins at home.
As someone once said, home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling, and we all want to feel happy at home. With that thought in mind, below you’ll find 12 ways to get that happy feeling at home.
1. Declutter Your Living Space.
The definition of clutter: A collection of things lying around in an untidy mess.
Expired foods, magazines and newspapers you haven’t read, mail that needs to be sorted, and piles of clothes that you are never going to wear are all clutter! If this sounds like your home, you’re not alone. The first step to being truly happy in your space is to figure out what to keep—and what to let go.
In her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Japanese organisational expert Marie Kondo recommends that you declutter your home by picking up each item and asking the following question: Does this bring me joy? She suggests that you only keep those items that spark positive emotions.
She adds that you should tackle decluttering by subject– for example, books, then clothes, then photos and souvenirs, and so on. Once you’re done decluttering, store everything that’s left in drawers, arranging all the items in such a way that everything can be seen at a glance.
Gretchen Rubin admits that this can be easier said than done. Some people hate to throw things away, and different people are comfortable with varying levels of possessions.
Gretchen said she pursued a strategy of only keeping things she engaged with. "Engagement came in two forms," she wrote. "First was the engagement that came with use. When I often used a possession – wore the purple coat, packed up the duffel bag, consulted the laminated subway map – I felt engaged with that object... Second was the engagement that came with response. Every time I walked by the shelf where we kept the handmade books my daughters made in nursery school, all swollen with glued bits of macaroni and cotton balls, I thought tenderly of those days... My goal, then, was to rid our home of things that didn't matter, to make more room for the things that did."
2. Display Items That Bring Back Happy Memories.
Which brings us nicely to our second point. By displaying items around your home that bring back happy memories, you’ll be bringing meaning to the happiness cycle of your experiences. Each time that you catch a glimpse of that photo of your family at Disney, or that African mask you picked up on your honeymoon, you’ll get a little jolt of happiness from the memory of those happy times.
Make your home a gallery of positive memories. Let everything in your house bring up positive remembrances of things and people you love. “Each time you look at that picture of you and your friends in Paris or see the painting you did that turned out better than you ever expected, it helps you keep perspective and connect you with what is good and wonderful in your life,” according to Rebecca West, a design psychology coach.
On the other hand, clear out the things that remind you of negative experiences and bring you down. “A stuffed animal from an ex-boyfriend, or a piece of furniture that you inherited but have never really liked, can keep you stuck in the past,” she says. “Life is too short to be surrounded by stuff you don’t like.”
3. Fill Your Home with Plants.
Research shows that being out in nature boosts happiness levels. Also, bringing nature indoors increases our sense of well-being. As explained in my blog, 8 Healthy houseplants, plants eliminate stuffy air in the home, reduce stress, work wonders on your mood, calm your nervous system, and put your mind at ease too.
So, one way to increase your happiness at home is to bring in plants or flowers. “Bringing nature into your home definitely has powerful psychological effects,” says Rebecca West. “Peace lilies are one of my favourites because they’re easy-care and do well in low light conditions.” Dr Augustin, PhD, also suggests avoiding spiky plants. “We associate comfort with curvy shapes and not spiky ones, which make us more alert,” she says.
“But if you aren’t blessed with a green thumb, then fresh flowers or even a print of a garden or a wall mural of trees can affect some of that same profound healing,” Rebecca says. “Even having natural wood furniture in your home partnered with green accessories or wall paint can bring that outdoor feeling inside.”
4. Give Warm Greetings and Farewells.
In her book Happier at Home, Gretchen Rubin indicates that as part of her quest to increase the happiness of her home, she wanted her family members to feel acknowledged and welcome every time they walked in through the door.
With this in mind, she proposed the following to her family:
“I want us to have the rule that when any one of us comes home, or is leaving, we all have to pay attention to that person for a minute. Let’s give warm greetings and farewells.”
She adds that this has created moments of real connection among her family members. In addition, this small thing has helped to improve the atmosphere in her home.
5. Get enough sleep.
Sleep has been linked to happiness. Our mood improves when we wake up “on the right side of the bed” after a good night’s sleep, and not getting good sleep has been linked to depression.
One way to feel more relaxed is to turn your bedroom into a retreat. Banish any reminders of non-sleep related activity in the bedroom. “If you have your home office in your bedroom, it’s great if the room is laid out so that when you’re actually lying down to go to sleep, you don’t see your desk and all the piles of papers,” Dr Augustin says.
According to Rebecca West, ideally, the bedroom should be one space to keep tidy. “If you can’t put your whole home in order, try to have at least one room, such as the master bedroom, that gives you peace and respite from it all,”.
Blackout blinds and curtains can also ensure the room is dark enough for good sleep. “It’s better for our health when the conditions are darker for sleep,” Dr Augustin says. “You can pull them during the day to let the daylight in.”
And don’t forget to make your bed. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, explains that this task takes just three minutes and is one of the simplest habits you can adopt to impact your happiness positively.
6. Have Mood-Boosting Snacks Handy.
If you want your entire household to be happier, fill your kitchen with easy to access mood-enhancing snacks. These include the following:
Dark chocolate — Dark chocolate stimulates endorphins, the pleasure hormone. It also contains serotonin, which is a chemical that acts as an anti-depressant.
Fruit — Fruits such as grapes and strawberries have mood-boosting effects.
Nuts — Eating a handful of nuts has been found to increase levels of serotonin, which translates into a better mood.
Also, keep tea handy. Theanine, which is an amino acid present in black and green tea, reduces anxiety and calms us. This is because it increases the number of inhibitory neurotransmitters, which balance our moods out. In addition, theanine modulates serotonin and dopamine, which are feel-good hormones.
7. Build a Home Library.
Research has shown that reading increases mental well-being and reduces stress levels as discussed in my blog Benefits of Reading. In addition, reading makes you happier. Specifically, reading makes us happy by fulfilling our need for competence. After all, when we read we gain knowledge, and gaining knowledge satisfies our curiosity.
Increase happiness levels at home by setting aside an area of your home and making it a place to read. Make sure that the area has chairs where your family members can get comfortable, that there’s good lighting, and that you have lots of good books to choose from.
8. Get a Fire Pit.
As Shawn Achor, Ph.D., explains in his book, The Happiness Advantage, our social support network is one of the greatest predictors of our happiness. Get yourself a fire pit for your backyard and create a gathering place for your friends and neighbours. You can roast marshmallows, have drinks, or just sit and relax.
Of course, your gathering place doesn’t have to be a fire pit. Arrange your home in a way that encourages socialising so that your friends will want to drop by. Be happier at home by making it a place in which you can connect with others.
9. Start a one-line-a-day gratitude journal.
Before bed, simply jot down one happy memory from that day. (If you have kids, you can ask them, "What was the best part of today?") Reflection is an important part of happiness, and pausing to reflect on a positive event from each day cultivates gratitude.
If you have trouble getting started with journaling, consider buying a book to guide you. Simple Abundance, by Sarah Ban Breathnach, is a great one.
10. Before you get up each morning, set an intent for the day.
In The Art of Happiness, the Dali Lama says ""Every day, think as you wake up: today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it."
As well as practising gratitude, setting a daily intent makes a huge difference to our daily mood. Your daily intention could be something like "be positive" or "enjoy today's little moments", or it could be something more specific like "say thank you to my loved ones today." But it should not be another "to do" item on your list.
11. Use the power of scent.
Studies have proven smell has psychological effects, so use oils or candles to conjure up good feelings in your home. “Researchers have learned that lavender helps people fall asleep so that can be good for the bedroom, and lemon can be good to smell when you’re trying to do cognitive work like in your home office,” Dr Augustin says.
But don’t lay it on too strong—scents will continue to have an effect even after your nose gets used to them. “Any smell in too great a concentration is off-putting and stress-generating, so you don’t want to walk in and feel like the lemon Pledge factory next door just exploded!” she says.
Home diffusers, such as these by NYR Organic are a great way to bring those scents you love into your home without any harsh chemicals. Whether you want a moment of calm or an energising boost, enhance your well-being naturally with steam and pure essential oils.
12. Create a calming space.
Finding a “sanctuary” in your home gives your mind a place to go to rest and restore, helping you feel more at peace. It doesn’t have to be a whole room—it could be a reading nook, a knitting or craft space, or even a “home spa” in your bathroom.
In carving out your sacred space, Dr Augustin suggests bright but muted colours like sage, soft textures like warm light, and curved lines in patterns and objects instead of straight lines. Studies show we prefer curved lines because we see sharp transitions, such as right angles, as more of a threat.
It’s a great feeling when you know that whatever happens during the day, you have a happy home to go to at night.
Free PDF: 3 Steps to a naturally healthy home